How community partnerships can build a New (and fairer) Economy

Last week we participated in E3M’s Growing the New Economy Convention. It was inspiring and energising, not least because it showcased the variety of ways in which organisations and individuals across the country are coming together to make change happen locally, independently of what happens on a national scale. The convention brought together a number of perspectives and approaches to this question: social enterprises (SE UK); co-operatives (Co-ops UK); localism (Locality); community investment (Power to Change) and community empowerment (CLES) amongst others. In this way, it built on and extended E3M’s Alchemy methodology, which is based on bringing together suppliers, commissioners, social funding institutions and communities. 

I was most inspired by the different methods these groups are using to make incremental changes, underpinned by perseverance and belief in a fairer society. Some groups approach this through employee ownership models such as co-operatives, giving employees responsibility, genuine buy-in and promoting loyalty and motivation.

Funders discussed how they could work together as partners to provide leverage for investment, building upon and increasing the potential of local authority funds, meaning ambitious projects can become a reality. This has been a key theme at E3M’s successful Alchemy events over the past year, highlighting how partnerships between the local authority, grant funding and investors can significantly expand the horizon for creative and innovative solutions. 

The Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) spoke about their “five principles” approach to community wealth building, including the analysis of existing land and property and re-purposing this in a way which is socially productive, for example through community land trusts.

A key theme was the role of procurement and commissioning, a topic my colleague, Julian Blake, specialises in. Not only did discussions on this cover the freedom which local authorities have to procure in a way which benefits the local community, there were numerous examples of local authorities putting this into practice in innovative ways, to achieve meaningful social value through the services they procure. Moreover, the discussion around commissioning was extended to the involvement of multiple funding sources (public authority, charitable, social finance, community, crowd and Government) working together to achieve a move from transactional “public service management” towards multi-stakeholder partnerships in the community. 

Wealth is created and, crucially, remains within the local community when local authorities actively work with local social enterprises and businesses that invest in their workforce to deliver their services, or to provide their goods. This is also reinforced when local authorities plan ahead to understand the needs they might have and then invest in the development of local people through training to meet that need. Profits are re-invested into people’s development or the locality, making local economies more robust and sustainable.

These ideas or values are not just for local authorities but for all stakeholders in the community, including businesses. That each organisation or individual can do something small to make an impact, and that by working together in partnerships we can create lasting changes in our own communities, were the concepts behind the Convention’s ‘New Economy’. However, it was these practical examples which demonstrated how to make the concept a reality that left me feeling so optimistic about the future and our ability to shape it for the better.

The law and practice referred to in this article has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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